Nov 17, 2014

Review: Pleasantville (1998)

Gary Ross is the kind of guy who regularly alternates between director, writer and producer roles. Sometimes he does all three, sometimes he only does one. Not all his movies are that great but he's got enough to his name that makes him a guy to look out for. Out of all the movies he's worked on and that I've seen, I'd say Dave is my favourite in which he was the writer.

Pleasantville is one two movies that Gary Ross acted as director, writer and producer, the other being Seabiscuit. Both movies star Tobey Maguire so he must have a thing for him. Nothing wrong with that because I like him myself too. He's got this kind of innocence and vulnerability about him that I like.

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Genre: comedy, drama, fantasy
Directed by: Gary Ross
Produced by: Jon Kilik, Gary Ross, Steven Soderbergh, etc.
Written by: Gary Ross
Music by: Randy Newman
Running time: 124 minutes
Production company: New Line Cinema, Larger Than Life Productions
Distributed by: New Line Cinema, EDKO Film, Líder Films, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $60,000,000
Box office: $49,805,462 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, William H. Macy, Joan Allen, Jeff Daniels, J.T. Walsh, Don Knotts, Marley Shelton, Jane Kaczmarek, Paul Walker, Giuseppe Andrews, Jenny Lewis, Marissa Ribisi, Kevin Connors, Natalie Ramsey, David Tom, Dawn Cody, Maggie Lawson, Andrea Taylor
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Synopsis


David (Tobey Maguire) is a shy high school student, too afraid to make a move on his crush. Instead, he takes solace in watching his favourite 1950's black and white sitcom, Pleasantville. His twin sister  Jennifer (Reese Witherspoon) on the other hand is more outgoing and successfully arranges for her guy crush to come by the house and watch a concert on MTV while their mother is out of town. The concert coincides with a Pleasantville marathon, resulting in a standoff for the TV and a broken remote. A mysterious repairman (Don Knotts) shows up and gives David a new remote control that magically transports him and his sister into the Pleasantville universe.

Review


I really thought that Pleasantville would be nothing more than a fish out of water comedy with maybe a little bit of drama. The setup seemed to indicate that. We're shown the very negative environment that David and Jennifer live in that features things like like less jobs for future graduates, global warming and parents not getting along. This is then contrasted with the perfect family living the perfect lives in Pleasantville where there is no fighting and people are so friendly and nice with each other that it's sickening. There are no homeless people and no one's parents ever get divorced.

Fun is also poked at how different living conditions were back then as well as how the universe in a TV sitcom seems to defy logic. It's all pretty funny if you ask me. No toilets exist for example because people don't go to the bathroom in the show. People don't even know what sex is because it's a family show, so why would they? If Pleasantville continued like this, I still would've been happy because it's good stuff.

Gary Ross throws a curveball though. He actually has something to say with Pleasantville and it has to do with personal repression, with ignorance, with people limiting themselves. What begins to happen once Jennifer introduces sex into these TV characters' universe is that colours start appearing. This sets off a chain reaction of changes and not everyone is happy. There are who want things to remain the same because that's how things have always been and that's why Pleasantville has always been so pleasant.

Amid an increasingly dramatic movie, comedy is tastefully worked in. There are also a lot of great performances from the main stars as well as the supporting actors. Even Paul Walker is great as a 50's dunderhead. Pleasantville is also great in the sense that it treats its characters very well. There's a lot of character growth to go around and it all feels very well executed and genuine. Definite props to Gary Ross' writing for that.

The cinematography is yet another strength of Pleasantville. The effect of having certain things appear in colour against a black and white world is really nice to look at. The colours really pop out and it's pretty mind boggling to think of all the work that went into doing it. Everything was filmed in colour originally and then turned into black and white afterwards which is insane. (Spoilers) Can't say that it's not worth it because it looks great and the scene where we finally see the entire town of Pleasantville in colour is shiver-inducing. (End Spoilers)

Pleasantville is an ambitious movie that not only is inspiring and thought-provoking, but it's fun to watch too. It's humorous, it's nice to look at and it has great characters who grow from beginning to end. Summing it all up, Pleasantville is a feel-good movie in the best possible sense.

Rating 

 

8/10